Grammatical characters in computational phylogeny

Grammatical characters in computational phylogeny: The causative alternation in Uralic

Funded by Kone Foundation 2017–2019

Leaders of the project: Riho Grünthal (Univ. Helsinki) and Johanna Nichols (UC Berkeley)

The project will combine etymological and typological data to improve the resolution of Uralic phylogeny and clarify questions of areal affinity and contact over time from Proto-Uralic to historical times. The combination of phylogenetic and geographical clarity should narrow down the likely homeland.

The team will use data from all main branches, attested languages and major dialects of Uralic, plus cognacy data on all the wordlist items and all the derivational morphemes. We will add potentially clade-defining grammatical innovations, including cognacy of derivational morphemes and grammatical characters such as valence and argument structure, all surveyed both word by word and overall, with the anticipated result of clarifying the much-debated upper branching structure of Uralic while also contributing to phylogenetic method, historical-comparative linguistics, and typology, and producing resources of major importance to Uralic and general linguistics.

Uralic is an ideal test case and natural laboratory for this work because of its considerable age, deep branching structure, relatively tractable geography with a primary west-east stretch and deepest branching to the east, and a relatively well understood history of recent migration and spread in the west of its range.